The eerie, sightless stare of wax-figure mannequins disconcerts many an onlooker, but the famous wax museums of today which host hyper-realistic looking wax models of celebrities and historical wax sculptures are the modern-day remnants of the ancient practice of wax modelling dating back to the ancient world. The wondrous works that came of this important material reveal the aesthetics, beliefs and rituals of ancient cultures.
Early Wax Creations Around The World
There are few ancient cultures around the world that did not at some point use wax to make tablets that were inscribed upon with a stylus, or made votive figures or amulets, or used wax in conjunction with other materials such as clay or molten metal to create weapons, implements, and art.
Mesopotamia, China, Africa, Indus Valley, Greece, Middle East, Europe, Latin America; all had an ancient tradition of “lost wax” casting technique. This process of making hollow or solid creations involves coating models in wax and then clay. The encased wax is then melted out through channels and holes, and replaced with molten metal.
17th century AD gold ibex sculpture about 10 cm long made with lost-wax technique, from excavation on Santorini. (Public Domain)
Waxen Figures to Drive Out The Demons, Or to Fall in Love
Some Ancient Egyptian figures and amulets made out of wax have survived. These objects were thought to be sacred, as beeswax was believed to be a powerful agent, both protective and destructive. It was malleable and easily…